The Time Has Come!

August 31st, 2010 1 comment

We have received great support and feedback from our loyal readers since the inception of RTR.  However, we’ve reached a point where there is  nothing more we can share that we haven’t already shared so we will be closing up shop here at RTR.  The web site will remain up for those who use the archives but unless something drastic changes, no new posts will be made.

We at RTR will be focusing our energies on getting our finances in order and being prepared to live off the grid for when the #$@ hits the fan. We strongly suggest you to do the same.

For those of you who are looking for a daily email update (similar to RTR) with news, videos, op-eds, etc. related to liberty, check out Rational Review and Liberty Outlook.

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Mass Delusion – American Style

August 20th, 2010 Comments off

From The Burning Platform

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” – Charles Mackay – Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

The American public thinks they are rugged individualists, who come to conclusions based upon sound reason and a rational thought process. The truth is that the vast majority of Americans act like a herd of cattle or a horde of lemmings. Throughout history there have been many instances of mass delusion. They include the South Sea Company bubble, Mississippi Company bubble, Dutch Tulip bubble, and Salem witch trials. It appears that mass delusion has replaced baseball as the national past-time in America. In the space of the last 15 years the American public have fallen for the three whopper delusions:

  1. Buy stocks for the long run
  2. Homes are always a great investment
  3. Globalization will benefit all Americans

Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva ponder why people have always acted in a herd like manner in their outstanding book Mobs, Messiahs and Markets:

“Of course, we doubt if many public prescriptions are really intended to solve problems. People certainly believe they are when they propose them. But, like so much of what goes on in a public spectacle, its favorite slogans, too, are delusional – more in the nature of placebos than propositions. People repeat them like Hail Marys because it makes them feel better. Most of our beliefs about the economy – and everything else – are of this nature. They are forms of self medication, superstitious lip service we pay to the powers of the dark, like touching wood….or throwing salt over your shoulder. “Stocks for the long run,” “Globalization is good.” We repeat slogans to ourselves, because everyone else does. It is not so much bad luck we want to avoid as being on our own. Why it is that losing your life savings should be less painful if you have lost it in the company of one million other losers, we don’t know. But mankind is first of all a herd animal and fears nothing more than not being part of the herd.”

Stocks for the Long Run

The book Stocks for the Long Run was written by Jeremy Siegel in the mid-1990′s. The premise is that if you just buy and hold stocks over a 20 to 30 year period, you will always make money. This was exactly what the Wall Street witch doctors ordered. They pounded this message into the brains of every American incessantly in their advertising campaigns, literature and propaganda. It became an unquestioned truth. Just one problem. It isn’t the truth. Valuations matter. The Dow Jones was at the same level in 1982 as it was in 1966. On an inflation adjusted basis, the Dow did not get back to the 1966 level until 1990. That is 24 years of no return in the stock market. The American public ignored the true facts and piled into equities during the late 1990s. The result was one of the greatest examples of mass delusion in history. The internet bubble drove the NASDAQ market to a peak of 5,048 in March 2000. Today it sits at 2,180. Ten years after the bubble burst, the NASDAQ is still down 57% from its peak.

Delusional Americans all over the country believed in the new internet paradigm. Fools thought “bricks and mortar” retailers were dead. Morons quit their jobs so they could get rich day trading. Wall Street hucksters took advantage of this hysteria by attaching .COM to every ridiculous IPO they shilled to the American public. Wall Street knew these companies were pieces of crap, but they churned out the IPOs as quickly as possible while the getting was good. The Wall Street oligarchs made billions and the delusional American public got screwed. You would think that average Americans would have learned their lesson after this experience. They did not. They continued to buy into the Wall Street lies about stocks being a sure path to riches. The fact is that the S&P 500 is currently at the same level it was in March 1998. On an inflation adjusted basis, it is 25% below the level of 1998. You don’t hear this information on CNBC because the oligarchs that control the media need the delusion to continue in order to harvest more riches from the ignorant masses.

Chart forS&P 500 INDEX,RTH (^GSPC)

Home Sweet Home

“The continuing shortages of housing inventory are driving the price gains. There is no evidence of bubbles popping.”David Lereah – Chief Economist for National Association of Realtors – 2005

“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.”Ben Bernanke – 2005

“House prices have risen by nearly 25 percent over the past two years. Although speculative activity has increased in some areas, at a national level these price increases largely reflect strong economic fundamentals.” - Ben Bernanke – 2005

Why was it that two supposedly brilliant, highly trained economists, with countless degrees and high paying positions could be so very wrong? Were they just mistaken or were they purposefully encouraging a national delusion? With the bursting of the internet bubble in 2000 – 2002, Americans immediately proceeded to the next bubble. Alan Greenspan was an almost God like figure in the early 2000s. He had “saved” the economy countless times during his 15 year reign of terror at the Federal Reserve. When he spoke, the American people listened. After the internet bubble and 9/11, he proceeded to reduce interest rates to 1% for an extended period of time. He then gave the all clear sign to Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages. Lastly, Mr. Free Markets decided that banks and mortgage brokers could police themselves. The result was the greatest housing bubble in US history and a near collapse of the worldwide financial system.

Sane economists like Robert Shiller saw it for what it was. He calmly pointed out that home prices had pretty much tracked inflation for over 100 years. A 100% increase in home prices over the course of 3 years was irrationally exuberant. He was scorned and ridiculed by the delusion propagators at the NAR, the cheerleaders on CNBC, the Wall Street money changers, the Federal Reserve stuffed suits, and the corrupt politicians in Washington DC. The usual drivel about positive demographics, low interest rates, strong income growth, and limited land to develop were spewed out by the corporate media complex. The beneficiaries of this mass delusion were the Wall Street banks that created mortgage products and derivatives faster than Obama spreads our wealth around.

Mass delusion is always encouraged by those who benefit most from the mass delusion. David Lereah has admitted that he lied about the housing bubble because he was employed by realtors. Realtors made millions in commissions. Appraisers made millions in fees by inflating appraisals. Mortgage brokers made millions by encouraging people to lie on mortgage applications. Wall Street whores made billions by creating toxic packages of mortgages and selling them to Irish nuns, old ladies and clueless municipal administrators. The ratings agencies made hundreds of millions in fees for slapping  AAA ratings on toxic derivatives. Politicians got rich from political “contributions” from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Wall Street, and the NAR. Any reasonable human being could look at the chart above and see that this would end badly, but Americans wanted to be deluded. They choose to believe. The housing market has now been falling for five years, with another five years to go. Ben Bernanke has reduced interest rates to zero. I wonder how that will work out.

Who Benefited from Globalization?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

From the time that Bill Clinton signed the NAFTA agreement in 1994, globalization has been touted by those in power as beneficial to all Americans. How could free markets and free trade be a bad thing? Corporate America, Wall Street, and the mainstream corporate media have blared the propaganda of globalization benefits from their loudspeakers. In theory, globalization appears to be a positive concept. It describes a process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through a global network of communication, transportation, and trade. The truth is that globalization is not inherently good or inherently bad. The idea is that each country has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each country will take advantage of their strengths and rely on other countries to help mitigate their weaknesses. This will result in increased trade, a larger world market, and economic progress for all. One small problem. Trade is not really free. Every country on earth protects various industries. Every country on earth manipulates their currency in order to get an edge. Every country on earth invokes tariffs to protect their national interests.

Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva address the difficulties of globalization and “free trade” in Mobs, Messiahs and Markets:

“Unfair trade is yet another of the dodgy slogans festooning the spectacle of globalization like tinsel slithering around a pole dancer. How can different regulations and practices in different countries constitute unfairness? Isn’t the essence of trade that different countries have different things to offer – whether cheap labor, or better technology, or more bountiful natural resources, or more welcoming business environments? If all countries had exactly the same things to offer each other, there would be no reason to trade at all. But what “fair” trade advocates are really advocating, of course, is unfair trade! They want to make sure their foreign competitors divest themselves of the very advantages that they bring to trading.”

“We notice, for instance, that when Americans in Detroit lose jobs to other Americans in California, they might grumble a bit. But, by and large, they accept it as part of the nature of things. They move, or retrain, or change jobs. But when they lose their jobs to Japanese in Osaka or Indians in Bangalore, then a cry goes up. Unfair trade, howl the trade unions; race to the bottom, scold the social activists; yellow – or brown – peril, shriek the xenophobes and racists.”

It seems the American middle class was sold a false bill of goods. They bought the Big Lie that globalization would benefit them. They bought into the delusion that even though their high paying manufacturing jobs sailed away to China and India, they could maintain their lifestyle through brain work, easy credit, cheap goods made in China by the people who took their jobs, and the ever increasing value of their homes. Noam Chomsky notes the fallacy of this delusion:

“The dominant propaganda systems have appropriated the term “globalization” to refer to the specific version of international economic integration that they favor, which privileges the rights of investors and lenders, those of people being incidental.”

Again, one must seek out who benefits from the delusion of globalization. The crony capitalists, Wall Street oligarchs, and corporate fascists who control the puppet strings in this country have benefited greatly from the Big Lie. Over 5 million manufacturing jobs have been off-shored since 2000. These good paying jobs are never coming back. Millions of service sector jobs continue to be shipped overseas. The global conglomerates like GE, HP, Oracle, IBM, and Boeing continue to rake in billions of profits, distributing millions to its high paid executives, while gutting middle class America. The ruling oligarchs convinced Americans to take advantage of cheap goods and easy credit, to buy electronics, cars, appliances, new kitchens, and take the vacations of their dreams. This Big Lie has left the American consumer with $2.5 trillion of non-mortgage debt and the lowest level of home equity in history. Retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and Best Buy reaped billions in profits as Americans whipped out one of their 10 credit cards to buy HDTV’s, economy bags of tube socks, iPads, iPods, stainless steel refrigerators, and Dell computers. Small town America’s mom and pop economy was gutted by Big Box retailers selling the globalization delusion. The biggest beneficiaries of the globalization delusion were the Wall Street banks. They control 80% of credit card market and have reaped billions in interest at rates exceeding 20%, while sucking $20 billion per year in late fees from the clueless public. Wall Street bankers have rewarded themselves for their brilliance in destroying the middle class by reaping multi-million dollar bonus packages.

Vincible Ignorance

“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” - Aldous Huxley

Based on all available evidence, it seems the American public wants to be misled. They have chosen ignorance over knowledge and understanding. They want to believe their corrupt leaders. They want to believe that things always work out in the long run. They want to believe that the economy is about to get better. They don’t want to think about unsustainable debt, unfunded liabilities, saving for retirement, or Simon Cowell leaving American Idol. Americans desperately want to be deluded into another bubble, but there are no evident bubbles left to blow. The existing American delusion is that the current fiscal path will not lead to the utter destruction of our once great Republic.

America resembles a 40 year old aging baseball icon with two bad knees, a pot belly, receding hairline and delusions that he is still the ball player he was at 24. He doesn’t realize that his skills are shot, as he flails at curveballs in the dirt thrown by 21 year old kids. The rest of the league knows he is washed up, but he refuses to accept reality. America isn’t even running on fumes at this point. It is running on delusions. Politicians think they have saved the country from a Depression by adding $3 trillion to the National Debt and allowing  Wall Street banks to pretend they are solvent. Americans have been deluded by the ruling oligarchs that a $700 billion bank bailout, an $800 billion pork filled stimulus plan, the Federal Reserve buying $1.2 trillion of toxic mortgages, and the Treasury forcing taxpayers to pick up a $400 billion tab for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s bad loans has actually solved a problem created by too much debt.

The American herd has gone mad. A few people have regained their senses, but the vast majority still exhibits the behavior of sheep being led to slaughter. The ruling oligarchs have utter contempt for the average American, but they fear the masses. In order to retain their power and wealth, they gladly hand out two years of unemployment payments, food stamps, and welfare payments to keep the masses sedated. The working middle class foots the bill. Corruption abounds and is sustained by the passage of more laws and regulations. The sociopathic powers that control the levers of power in this country need to be brought to justice if this country has any chance at survival. The den of vipers and thieves have trampled on the Constitution, speculated with the country’s funds, risked blowing up the financial system, committed fraud on a massive scale, and continue to rape and pillage the American citizens. Vincible ignorance by the American people is no longer a legitimate excuse. The criminals on Wall Street and Washington DC must be routed out and Americans must awaken from their delusional state before it is too late. I weep for the liberty of my country.

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Video: They Destroyed All of the Evidence With no Criminal Investigation! -Pat Tillman’s Mom, Mary

August 20th, 2010 Comments off

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Web Photos That Reveal Secrets, Like Where You Live

August 20th, 2010 Comments off

From Yahoo Finance

When Adam Savage, host of the popular science program “MythBusters,” posted a picture on Twitter of his automobile parked in front of his house, he let his fans know much more than that he drove a Toyota Land Cruiser.

Embedded in the image was a geotag, a bit of data providing the longitude and latitude of where the photo was taken. Hence, he revealed exactly where he lived. And since the accompanying text was “Now it’s off to work,” potential thieves knew he would not be at home.

Security experts and privacy advocates have recently begun warning about the potential dangers of geotags, which are embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones and digital cameras. Because the location data is not visible to the casual viewer, the concern is that many people may not realize it is there; and they could be compromising their privacy, if not their safety, when they post geotagged media online.

Mr. Savage said he knew about geotags. (He should, as host of a show popular with technology followers.) But he said he had neglected to disable the function on his iPhone before taking the picture and uploading it to Twitter.

“I guess it was a lack of concern because I’m not nearly famous enough to be stalked,” he said, “and if I am, I want a raise.”

Still, Mr. Savage has since turned off the geotag feature on his iPhone, and he isn’t worried about the archived photo on Twitter because he has moved to a new residence.

But others may not be so technologically informed or so blasé about their privacy.

“I’d say very few people know about geotag capabilities,” said Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, “and consent is sort of a slippery slope when the only way you can turn off the function on your smartphone is through an invisible menu that no one really knows about.”

Indeed, disabling the geotag function generally involves going through several layers of menus until you find the “location” setting, then selecting “off” or “don’t allow.” But doing this can sometimes turn off all GPS capabilities, including mapping, so it can get complicated.

The Web site ICanStalkU.com provides step-by-step instructions for disabling the photo geotagging function on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Palm devices.

A person’s location is also revealed while using services like Foursquare and Gowalla as well as when posting to Twitter from a GPS-enabled mobile device, but the geographical data is not hidden as it is when posting photos.

A handful of academic researchers and independent Web security analysts, who call themselves “white hat hackers,” have been trying to raise awareness about geotags by releasing studies and giving presentations at technology get-togethers like the Hackers On Planet Earth, or Next HOPE, conference held last month in New York.

Their lectures and papers demonstrate the ubiquity of geotagged photos and videos on Web sites like Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Craigslist, and how these photos can be used to identify a person’s home and haunts.

Many of the pictures show people’s children playing in or around their homes. Others reveal expensive cars, computers and flat-screen televisions. There are also pictures of people at their friends’ houses or at the Starbucks they visit each morning.

By downloading free browser plug-ins like the Exif Viewer for Firefox (addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3905/) or Opanda IExif for Internet Explorer (opanda.com/en/iexif/), anyone can pinpoint the location where the photo was taken and create a Google map.

Moreover, since multimedia sites like Twitter and YouTube have user-friendly application programming interfaces, or A.P.I.’s, someone with a little knowledge about writing computer code can create a program to search for geotagged photos in a systematic way. For example, they can search for those accompanied with text like “on vacation” or those taken in a specified neighborhood.

“Any 16 year-old with basic programming skills can do this,” said Gerald Friedland, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. He and a colleague, Robin Sommer, wrote a paper, “Cybercasing the Joint: On the Privacy Implications of Geotagging,” which they presented on Tuesday at a workshop in Washington during the Advanced Computing Systems Association’s annual conference on security.

The paper provides three examples of so-called cybercasing that use photos posted on Twitter and Craigslist and a homemade video on YouTube.

By looking at geotags and the text of posts, Mr. Sommer said, “you can easily find out where people live, what kind of things they have in their house and also when they are going to be away.”

“Our intent is not to show how it’s done,” he said, “but raise awareness so people can understand their devices and turn off those options if they want to.”

ICanStalkU.com, developed by the security consultants Larry Pesce of the NWN Corporation in Waltham, Mass., and Ben Jackson of Mayhemic Labs in Boston, uses a more direct approach to warning about the potential dangers of geotags. The site displays a real-time stream of geotagged photos posted on Twitter; the person who posted the photo also gets a notification via Twitter.

“The reaction from people is either anger, like ‘I’m going to punch you out,’ or ‘No duh, like I didn’t already know that’ or ‘Oh my God, I had no idea,’ ” Mr. Pesce said.

In the latter category was Cristina Parker of El Paso, who sells appliances part-time at Kmart and also manages social media for small companies. ICanStalkU.com notified her last week that a photo she had posted on Twitter of her Chihuahua, Zipp, also revealed where she lived.

“I immediately tweeted back to find out what I can do about it,” said Ms. Parker. The site sent her a Web link to instructions on how to turn off the geotag function on her LG Ally smartphone. “It’s definitely good to know for me personally and because of my social media work, too,” she said

Because of the way photographs are formatted by some sites like Facebook and Match.com, geotag information is not always retained when an image is uploaded, which provides some protection, albeit incidental. Other sites like Flickr have recently taken steps to block access to geotag data on images taken with smartphones unless a user explicitly allows it.

But experts say the problem goes far beyond social networking and photo sharing Web sites, regardless of whether they offer user privacy settings.

“There are so many places where people upload photos, like personal blogs and bulletin boards,” said Johannes B. Ullrich, chief technology officer of the SANS Technology Institute, which provides network security training and monitors the Internet for emerging security threats.

Protecting your privacy is not just a matter of being aware and personally responsible, said Mr. Sommer, the researcher. A friend may take a geotagged photo at your house and post it.

“You need to educate yourself and your friends but in the end, you really have no control,” he said, adding that he was considering writing a program to troll the Internet for photos with geotags corresponding to users’ home addresses.

“I’m beginning to think there may be a market for it.”

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The Myths of Reaganomics

August 19th, 2010 Comments off

From The Mises Institute


This memo to Mises Institute members was written in late 1987, and published in “The Free Market Reader,” LH Rockwell, Jr., ed., 1988, pp. 3342–362 and is posted on Mises.org in an edited edition.

I come to bury Reaganomics, not to praise it.

How well has Reaganomics achieved its own goals? Perhaps the best way of discovering those goals is to recall the heady days of Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for the presidency, especially before his triumph at the Republican National Convention in 1980. In general terms, Reagan pledged to return, or advance, to a free market and to “get government off our backs.”

Specifically, Reagan called for a massive cut in government spending, an even more drastic cut in taxation (particularly the income tax), a balanced budget by 1984 (that wild-spender, Jimmy Carter you see, had raised the budget deficit to $74 billion a year, and this had to be eliminated), and a return to the gold standard, where money is supplied by the market rather than by government. In addition to a call for free markets domestically, Reagan affirmed his deep commitment to freedom of international trade. Not only did the upper echelons of the administration sport Adam Smith ties, in honor of that moderate free-trader, but Reagan himself affirmed the depth of the influence upon him of the mid-19th century laissez-faire economist, Frederic Bastiat, whose devastating and satiric attacks on protectionism have been anthologized in economics readings ever since.

The gold standard was the easiest pledge to dispose of. President Reagan appointed an allegedly impartial gold commission to study the problem—a commission overwhelmingly packed with lifelong opponents of gold. The commission presented its predictable report, and gold was quickly interred.

Let’s run down the other important areas:

Government Spending. How well did Reagan succeed in cutting government spending, surely a critical ingredient in any plan to reduce the role of government in everyone’s life? In 1980, the last year of free-spending Jimmy Carter the federal government spent $591 billion. In 1986, the last recorded year of the Reagan administration, the federal government spent $990 billion, an increase of 68%. Whatever this is, it is emphatically not reducing government expenditures.

Sophisticated economists say that these absolute numbers are an unfair comparison, that we should compare federal spending in these two years as percentage of gross national product. But this strikes me as unfair in the opposite direction, because the greater the amount of inflation generated by the federal government, the higher will be the GNP. We might then be complimenting the government on a lower percentage of spending achieved by the government’s generating inflation by creating more money. But even taking these percentages of GNP figures, we get federal spending as percent of GNP in 1980 as 21.6%, and after six years of Reagan, 24.3%. A better comparison would be percentage of federal spending to net private product, that is, production of the private sector. That percentage was 31.1% in 1980, and a shocking 34.3% in 1986. So even using percentages, the Reagan administration has brought us a substantial increase in government spending.

Also, the excuse cannot be used that Congress massively increased Reagan’s budget proposals. On the contrary, there was never much difference between Reagan’s and Congress’s budgets, and despite propaganda to the contrary, Reagan never proposed a cut in the total budget.

Deficits. The next, and admittedly the most embarrassing, failure of Reaganomic goals is the deficit. Jimmy Carter habitually ran deficits of $40-50 billion and, by the end, up to $74 billion; but by 1984, when Reagan had promised to achieve a balanced budget, the deficit had settled down comfortably to about $200 billion, a level that seems to be permanent, despite desperate attempts to cook the figures in one-shot reductions.

This is by far the largest budget deficit in American history. It is true that the $50 billion deficits in World War II were a much higher percentage of the GNP; but the point is that that was a temporary, one-shot situation, the product of war finance. But the war was over in a few years; and the current federal deficits now seem to be a recent, but still permanent part of the American heritage.

One of the most curious, and least edifying, sights in the Reagan era was to see the Reaganites completely change their tune of a lifetime. At the very beginning of the Reagan administration, the conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, convinced that deficits would disappear immediately, received a terrific shock when they were asked by the Reagan administration to vote for the usual annual increase in the statutory debt limit. These Republicans, some literally with tears in their eyes, protested that never in their lives had they voted for an increase in the national debt limit, but they were doing it just this one time because they “trusted Ronald Reagan” to balance the budget from then on. The rest, alas, is history, and the conservative Republicans never saw fit to cry again. Instead, they found themselves adjusting rather easily to the new era of huge permanent deficits. The Gramm-Rudman law, allegedly designed to eradicate deficits in a few years, has now unsurprisingly bogged down in enduring confusion.

Even less edifying is the spectre of Reaganomists who had inveighed against deficits—that legacy of Keynesianism—for decades. Soon Reaganite economists, especially those staffing economic posts in the executive and legislative branches, found that deficits really weren’t so bad after all. Ingenious models were devised claiming to prove that there really isn’t any deficit. Bill Niskanen, of the Reagan Council of Economic Advisors, came up with perhaps the most ingenious discovery: that there is no reason to worry about government deficits, since they are balanced by the growth in value of government assets. Well, hooray, but it is rather strange to see economists whose alleged goal is a drastic reduction in the role of government cheering for ever greater growth in government assets. Moreover, the size of government assets is really beside the point. It would only be of interest if the federal government were just another private business firm, about to go into liquidation, and whose debtors could then be satisfied by a parceling out of its hefty assets. The federal government is not about to be liquidated; there is no chance, for example, of an institution ever going into bankruptcy or liquidation that has the legal right to print whatever money it needs to get itself—and anyone else it favors—out of any financial hole.

There has also been a fervent revival of the old left-Keynesian idea that “deficits don’t matter, anyway.” Deficits are stimulating, we can “grow ourselves out of deficits,” etc. The most interesting, though predictable, twist was that of the supply-siders, who, led by Professor Arthur Laffer and his famous “curve,” had promised that if income tax rates were cut, investment and production would be so stimulated that a fall in tax rates would increase tax revenue and balance the budget. When the budget was most emphatically not balanced, and deficits instead got worse, the supply-siders threw Laffer overboard as the scapegoat, claiming that Laffer was an extremist, and the only propounder of his famous curve. The supply-siders then retreated to their current, fall-back position, which is quite frankly Keynesian; namely deficits don’t matter anyway, so let’s have cheap money and deficits; relax and enjoy them. About the only Keynesian phrase we have not heard yet from Reaganomists is that the national debt “doesn’t matter because we owe it to ourselves,” and I am waiting for some supply-sider to adopt this famous 1930s phrase of Abba Lerner without, of course, bothering about attribution.

One way in which Ronald Reagan has tried to seize the moral high road on the deficit question is to divorce his rhetoric from reality even more sharply than usual. Thus, the proposer of the biggest deficits in American history has been calling vehemently for a Constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. In that way, Reagan can lead the way toward permanent $200 billion deficits, while basking in the virtue of proposing a balanced budget amendment, and trying to make Congress the fall guy for our deficit economy.

Even in the unlikely event that the balanced budget amendment should ever pass, it would be ludicrous in its lack of effect. In the first place, Congress can override the amendment at any time by three-fifths vote. Secondly, Congress is not required to actually balance any budget; that is, its actual expenditures in any given year are not limited to the revenues taken in. Instead, Congress is only required to prepare an estimate of a balanced budget for a future year; and of course, government estimates, even of its own income or spending, are notoriously unreliable. And third, there is no enforcement clause; suppose Congress did violate even the requirement for an estimated balanced budget: What is going to happen to the legislators? Is the Supreme Court going to summon marshals and put the entire U.S. Congress in jail? And yet, not only has Reagan been pushing for such an absurd amendment, but so too have many helpful Reaganomists.

Tax Cuts. One of the few areas where Reaganomists claim success without embarrassment is taxation. Didn’t the Reagan administration, after all, slash income taxes in 1981, and provide both tax cuts and “fairness” in its highly touted tax reform law of 1986? Hasn’t Ronald Reagan, in the teeth of opposition, heroically held the line against all tax increases?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. In the first place, the famous “tax cut” of 1981 did not cut taxes at all. It’s true that tax rates for higher-income brackets were cut; but for the average person, taxes rose, rather than declined. The reason is that, on the whole, the cut in income tax rates was more than offset by two forms of tax increase. One was “bracket creep,” a term for inflation quietly but effectively raising one into higher tax brackets, so that you pay more and proportionately higher taxes even though the tax rate schedule has officially remained the same. The second source of higher taxes was Social Security taxation, which kept increasing, and which helped taxes go up overall. Not only that, but soon thereafter; when the Social Security System was generally perceived as on the brink of bankruptcy, President Reagan brought in Alan Greenspan, a leading Reaganomist and now Chairman of the Federal Reserve, to save Social Security as head of a bipartisan commission. The “saving,” of course, meant still higher Social Security taxes then and forevermore.

Since the tax cut of 1981 that was not really a cut, furthermore, taxes have gone up every single year since, with the approval of the Reagan administration. But to save the president’s rhetorical sensibilities, they weren’t called tax increases. Instead, ingenious labels were attached to them; raising of “fees,” “plugging loopholes” (and surely everyone wants loopholes plugged), “tightening IRS enforcement,” and even revenue enhancements.” I am sure that all good Reaganomists slept soundly at night knowing that even though government revenue was being “enhanced,” the president had held the line against tax increases.

The highly ballyhooed Tax “Reform” Act of 1986 was supposed to be economically healthy as well as “fair”; supposedly “revenue neutral,” it was to bring us (a) simplicity, helping the public while making the lives of tax accountants and lawyers miserable; and (b) income tax cuts, especially in the higher income brackets and in everyone’s marginal tax rates (that is, income tax rates on additional money you may earn); and offset only by plugging those infamous loopholes. The reality, of course, was very different, In the first place, the administration has succeeded in making the tax laws so complicated that even the IRS admittedly doesn’t understand it, and tax accountants and lawyers will be kept puzzled and happy for years to come.

Secondly, while indeed income tax rates were cut in the higher brackets, many of the loophole plugs meant huge tax increases for people in the upper as well as middle income brackets. The point of the income tax, and particularly the marginal rate cuts, was the supply-sider objective of lowering taxes to stimulate savings and investment. But a National Bureau study by Hausman and Poterba on the Tax Reform Act shows that over 40% of the nation’s taxpayers suffered a marginal tax increase (or at best, the same rate as before) and, of the majority that did enjoy marginal tax cuts, only 11% got reductions of 10% or more. In short, most of the tax reductions were negligible. Not only that; the Tax Reform Act, these authors reckoned, would lower savings and investment overall because of the huge increases in taxes on business and on capital gains. Moreover savings were also hurt by the tax law’s removal of tax deductibility on contributions to IRAs.

Not only were taxes increased, but business costs were greatly raised by making business expense meals only 80% deductible, which means a great expenditure of business time and energy keeping and shuffling records. And not only were taxes raised by eliminating tax shelters in real estate, but the law’s claims to “fairness” were made grotesque by the retroactive nature of many of the tax increases. Thus, the abolition of tax shelter deductibility was made retroactive, imposing huge penalties after the fact. This is ex post facto legislation outlawed by the Constitution, which prohibits making actions retroactively criminal for a time period when they were perfectly legal. A friend of mine, for example, sold his business about eight years ago; to avoid capital gains taxes, he incorporated his business in the American Virgin Islands, which the federal government had made exempt from capital gains taxes in order to stimulate Virgin Islands development. Now, eight years later, this tax exemption for the Virgin Islands has been removed (a “loophole” plugged!) but the IRS now expects my friend to pay full retroactive capital gains taxes plus interest on this eight-year old sale. Let’s hear it for the “fairness” of the tax reform law!

But the bottom line on the tax question: is what happened in the Reagan era to government tax revenues overall? Did the amount of taxes extracted from the American people by the federal government go up or down during the Reagan years? The facts are that federal tax receipts were $517 billion in the last Carter year of 1980. In 1986, revenues totaled $769 billion, an increase of 49%. Whatever that is, that doesn’t look like a tax cut. But how about taxes as a percentage of the national product? There, we can concede that on a percentage criterion, overall taxes fell very slightly, remaining about even with the last year of Carter. Taxes fell from 18.9% of the GNP to 18.3%, or for a better gauge, taxes as percentage of net private product fell from 27.2% to 26.6%. A large absolute increase in taxes, coupled with keeping taxes as a percentage of national product about even, is scarcely cause for tossing one’s hat in the air about a whopping reduction in taxes during the Reagan years.

In recent months, moreover; the Reagan administration has been more receptive to loophole plugging, fees, and revenues than ever before. To quote from the Tax Watch column in the New York Times (October 13, 1987): “President Reagan has repeatedly warned Congress of his opposition to any new taxes, but some White House aides have been trying to figure out a way of endorsing a tax bill that could be called something else.”

In addition to closing loopholes, the White House is nudging Congress to expand the usual definition of a “user fee,” not a tax because it is supposed to be a fee for those who use a government service, say national parks or waterways. But apparently the Reagan administration is now expanding the definition of “user fee” to include excise taxes, on the assumption, apparently, that every time we purchase a product or service we must pay government for its permission. Thus, the Reagan administration has proposed not, of course, as a tax increase, but as an alleged “user fee,” a higher excise tax on every international airline or ship ticket, a tax on all coal producers, and a tax on gasoline and on highway charges for buses. The administration is also willing to support, as an alleged user fee rather than a tax, a requirement that employers, such as restaurants, start paying the Social Security tax on tips received by waiters and other service personnel.

In the wake of the stock market crash, President Reagan is now willing to give us a post-crash present of: higher taxes that will openly be called higher taxes. On Tuesday morning, the White House declared: “We’re going to hold to our guns. The president has given us marching orders: no tax increase.” By Tuesday afternoon, however, the marching orders had apparently evaporated, and the president said that he was “willing to look at” tax-increase proposals. To greet a looming recession with a tax increase is a wonderful way to bring that recession into reality. Once again, President Reagan is following the path blazed by Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression of raising taxes to try to combat a deficit.

Deregulation. Another crucial aspect of freeing the market and getting government off our backs is deregulation, and the administration and its Reaganomists have been very proud of its deregulation record. However, a look at the record reveals a very different picture. In the first place, the most conspicuous examples of deregulation; the ending of oil and gasoline price controls and rationing, the deregulation of trucks and airlines, were all launched by the Carter administration, and completed just in time for the Reagan administration to claim the credit. Meanwhile, there were other promised deregulations that never took place; for example, abolition of natural gas controls and of the Department of Energy.

Overall, in fact, there has probably been not deregulation, but an increase in regulation. Thus, Christopher De Muth, head of the American Enterprise Institute and a former top official of Reagan’s Office of Management and the Budget, concludes that “the President has not mounted a broad offensive against regulation. There hasn’t been much total change since 1981. There has been more balanced administration of regulatory agencies than we had become used to in the 1970s, but many regulatory rules have been strengthened.”

In particular, there has been a fervent drive, especially in the past year; to intensify regulation of Wall Street. A savage and almost hysterical attack was launched late last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission and by the Department of Justice on the high crime of “insider trading.” Distinguished investment bankers were literally hauled out of their offices in manacles, and the most conspicuous inside trader received as a punishment (1) a fine of $100 million; (2) a lifetime ban on any further security trading, and (3) a jail term of one year, suspended for community service. And this is the light sentence, in return for allowing himself to be wired and turn informer on his insider trading colleagues. [Editor's note: Ivan Boesky was sentenced to three years in prison.]

All this was part of a drive by the administration to protect inefficient corporate managers from the dread threat of takeover bids, by which means stockholders are able to dispose easily of ineffective management and turn to new managers. Can we really say that this frenzied assault on Wall Street by the Reagan administration had no impact on the stock market crash [October 1987]?

And yet the Reagan administration has reacted to the crash not by letting up, but by intensifying, regulation of the stock market. The head of the SEC strongly considered closing down the market on October 19, and some markets were temporarily shut down—a case, once again, of solving problems by shooting the market—the messenger of bad news. October 20, the Reagan administration collaborated in announcing early closing of the market for the next several days. The SEC has already moved, in conjunction with the New York Stock Exchange, to close down computer program trading on the market, a trade related to stock index futures. But blaming computer program trading for the crash is a Luddite reaction; trying to solve problems by taking a crowbar and wrecking machines. There were no computers, after all, in 1929. Once again, the instincts of the administration, particularly in relation to Wall Street, is to regulate. Regulate, and inflate, seem to be the Reaganite answers to our economic ills.

Agricultural policy, for its part, has been a total disaster. Instead of ending farm price supports and controls and returning to a free market in agriculture, the administration has greatly increased price supports, controls and subsidies. Furthermore, it has brought a calamitous innovation to the farm program; the PIK program ["Payments In Kind"] in which the government gets the farmers to agree to drastic cuts in acreage, in return for which the government pays back the wheat or cotton surpluses previously held off the market. The result of all this has been to push farm prices far higher than the world market, depress farm exports, and throw many farmers into bankruptcy. All the administration can offer, however, is more of the same disastrous policy.

Foreign Economic Policy. If the Reagan administration has botched the domestic economy, even in terms of its own goals, how has it done in foreign economic affairs? As we might expect, its foreign economic policy has been the exact opposite of its proclaimed devotion to free trade and free markets. In the first place, Adam Smith ties and Bastiat to the contrary notwithstanding, the Reagan administration has been the most belligerent and nationalistic since Herbert Hoover. Tariffs and import quotas have been repeatedly raised, and Japan has been treated as a leper and repeatedly denounced for the crime of selling high quality products at low prices to the delighted American consumer.

In all matters of complex and tangled international economics, the only way out of the thicket is to keep our eye on one overriding question: Is it good, or bad, for the American consumer? What the American consumer wants is good quality products at low prices, and so the Japanese should be welcomed and admired instead of condemned. As for the alleged crime of “dumping,” if the Japanese are really foolish enough to waste money and resources by dumping—that is selling goods to us below costs—then we should welcome such a policy with open arms; anytime the Japanese are willing to sell me Sony TV sets for a dollar, I am more than happy to take the sets off their hands.

Not only foreign producers are hurt by protectionism, but even more so are American consumers. Every time the administration slaps a tariff or quota on motorcycles or on textiles or semiconductors or clothespins—as it did to bail out one inefficient clothespin plant in Maine—every time it does that, it injures the American consumer.

It is no wonder, then, that even the Reaganomist Bill Niskanen recently admitted that “international trade is more regulated than it was 10 years ago.” Or, as Secretary of Treasury James Baker declared proudly last month: “President Reagan has granted more import relief to U.S. industry than any of his predecessors in more than half a century.” Pretty good for a Bastiat follower.

Another original aim of the Reagan administration, under the influence of the monetarists, or Friedmanites, was to keep the government’s hand completely off exchange rates, and to allow these rates to fluctuate freely on the market, without interference by the Federal Reserve or the Treasury. A leading monetarist, Dr. Beryl W. Sprinkel, was made Undersecretary of the Treasury for Monetary Policy in 1981 to carry out that policy. But this non-intervention is long gone, and Secretary Baker, aided by the Fed, has been busily engaged in trying to persuade other countries to intervene to help coordinate and fix exchange rates. After being removed from the Treasury after several years, Sprinkel was sent to Siberia and ordered to keep quiet, as head of the Council of Economic Advisors; and Sprinkel has recently announced that he will leave the government altogether. [Editor's note: Sprinkel was later rehabilitated, and given Cabinet status, in return for his agreement to take part in the disastrous Baker dollar policy.]

Moreover, the policy of foreign aid and foreign lending conducted or encouraged by the government has proceeded more intensely than even under previous administrations. Reagan has bailed out the despotic government of Poland with massive loans, so that Poland could repay its Western creditors. A similar policy has been conducted in relation to many shaky or bankrupt third world governments. The spectre of bank collapse from foreign loans has been averted by bailouts and promises of bailout from the Federal Reserve, the nation’s only manufacturer of dollars, which it can produce at will.

Wherever we look, then, on the budget, in the domestic economy, or in foreign trade or international monetary relations, we see government even more on our backs than ever. The burden and the scope of government intervention under Reagan has increased, not decreased. Reagan’s rhetoric has been calling for reductions of government; his actions have been precisely the reverse. Yet both sides of the political fence have bought the rhetoric and claim that it has been put into effect.

Reaganites and Reaganomists, for obvious reasons, are trying desperately to maintain that Reagan has indeed fulfilled his glorious promises; while his opponents, intent on attacking the bogey of Reaganomics, are also, and for opposite reasons, anxious to claim that Reagan has really put his free-market program into operation. So we have the curious, and surely not healthy, situation where a mass of politically interested people are totally misinterpreting and even misrepresenting the Reagan record; focusing, like Reagan himself, on his rhetoric instead of on the reality.

What of the Future? Is there life after Reaganomics? To assess coming events, we first have to realize that Reaganomics has never been a monolith. It has had several faces; Reaganomics has been an uneasy and shifting coalition of several clashing schools of economic thought. In particular, the leading schools have been the conservative Keynesians, the Milton Friedman monetarists, and the supply-siders. The monetarists, devoted to a money rule of a fixed percentage increase of money growth engineered by the Federal Reserve, have come a cropper. Fervently believing that science is nothing else but prediction, the monetarists have self-destructed by making a string of self-confident but disastrous predictions in the last several years. Their fate illustrates the fact that he who lives by prediction shall die by it. Apart from their views on money, the monetarists generally believe in free markets, and so their demise has left Reaganomics in the hands of the other two schools, neither of whom are particularly interested in free markets or cutting government.

The conservative Keynesians—the folks who brought us the economics of the Nixon and Ford administrations—saw Keynesianism lose its dominance among economists with the inflationary recession of 1973-74, an event which Keynesians stoutly believed could never possibly happen. But while Keynesians have lost their old eclat, they remain with two preoccupations: (1) a devotion to the New Deal-Fair Deal-Great Society-Nixon-Ford-Carter-status quo, and (2) a zeal for tax increases to moderate the current deficit. As for government spending, never has the thought of actually cutting expenditures crossed their minds. The supply-siders, who are weak in academia but strong in the press and in exerting enormous political leverage per capita, have also no interest in cutting government spending. To the contrary, both conservative Keynesians and supply-siders are prepared to call for an increasing stream of goodies from government.

Both groups have also long been keen on monetary inflation. The supply-siders have pretty much given up the idea of tax cuts; their stance is now to accept the deficit and oppose any tax increase. On foreign monetary matters, the conservative Keynesians and the supply-siders have formed a coalition; both groups embrace Secretary of Treasury Baker’s Keynesian program of fixed exchange rates and an internationally coordinated policy of cheap money.

Politically, the Republican presidential candidates can be assessed on their various preferred visions of Reaganomics. Vice-President Bush is, of course, a conservative Keynesian and a veteran arch-enemy of supply-side doctrine, which he famously denounced in 1980 as “voodoo economics.” Secretary of Treasury James Baker is a former Bush campaign aide. White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker is also in the conservative Keynesian camp, as was Paul Volcker, and is Alan Greenspan. Since former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan was a fellow-traveller of the supply-siders, his replacement by Howard Baker as a result of Iranscam was a triumph of conservative Keynesians over the supply-siders. This year, in fact, our troika of Economic Rulers, Greenspan and the two Bakers, has all been squarely in the conservative Keynesian camp.

Senator Robert Dole, the other Republican front-runner for president, is also a conservative Keynesian. In fact, Bob Dole carried on the fight for higher taxes even when it was relatively unfashionable inside the administration. So devoted to higher taxes is Bob Dole, in fact, that he is reputed to be the favorite presidential candidate of the Internal Revenue Service. So if you like the IRS, you’ll love Bob Dole.

Congressman Jack Kemp, on the other hand, has been the political champion of the supply-siders ever since supply-side was invented in the late 1970s. Kemp’s call for higher government spending, and approval of deficits, monetary inflation, and fixed exchange rates, all attest to his supply-side devotion.

Jack Kemp, however, has for some reason not struck fire among the public, so Mrs. Jeanne Kirkpatrick stands ready in the wings to take up the cause if Kemp should fail to rally. I confess I have not been able to figure out the economic views of the Reverend Pat Robertson, although I have a hunch they do not loom very large in his world outlook.

Although there are a lot of Democratic candidates out there, it is hard at this point to distinguish one from another, on economic policy or indeed on anything else. As Joe Klein recently wrote in a perceptive article in New York magazine, the Republicans are engaged in an interesting clash of different ideas, while the Democrats are all muddily groping toward the center. To make the confusion still greater, Klein points out that Republicans are busily talking about “compassion,” while the Democrats are all stressing “efficiency.” One thing is fairly clear; Congressman Gephardt is an all-out protectionist, thoroughly jettisoning the old Democratic commitment to free trade, and is the most ardent statist in agricultural policy.

On monetary and fiscal policy, the Democrats are the classic party of liberal Keynesianism, in contrast to the Republican policy of conservative Keynesianism. The problem is that, in the last decade or two, it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference. Apart from supply-sider Kemp, we can expect the president of either party to be a middle-of-the-road liberal/conservative Keynesian. And so we can expect the next administration’s economic policies to be roughly the same as they are now. Except that the rhetoric will be different. So we can, therefore, expect diverse perceptions and responses to a similar reality by the public and by the market. Thus, if Jack Kemp becomes president, the public will wrongly consider him a champion of hard money, budget cutting, and the free market. The public will therefore underestimate the wildly inflationist reality of a Kemp administration. On the other hand, the public probably perceives the Democrats to be wilder spenders relative to the Republicans than they really are. So should the Democrats win in 1988, we can expect the market to overestimate the inflationary measure of a Democratic administration.

All of this, along with the universal misperception of Reaganomics, illustrates once more the wisdom of those incisive political philosophers, Gilbert and Sullivan: “Things are not always what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.”

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You Don’t Own Other People

August 19th, 2010 Comments off

From C4Ss

Laws against peaceful, consensual activity always seem to be in the news. Dianne Feinstein takes a hardline stance against marijuana law reform. Raids on raw milk distributors are a regular occurrence. Every little while a story breaks about another “family values” politician soliciting a prostitute who turns out to be an undercover cop.

A sizable share of people in the criminal justice system is made up of those who ran afoul of some law commanding “Touch not, taste not, handle not.”

If you support such laws, there is no ground on which you can consistently do so without believing that other people are your property, or are your inferiors and subject to your command.

You may argue that “society” collectively decides what to permit and not to permit, based on some vision of the “common good.” But remember those high school civics texts with the stuff about government exercising only powers delegated by the governed, government’s function being to protect the rights of the individual, and all that? Well, you can’t delegate a power you don’t have. And government can’t protect a right, on your behalf, that you don’t possess as an individual.

So you can’t delegate to government the power to tell other people what foods or drugs to ingest, or who to have sex with, unless you, as an individual, already have the right to boss other people around. You as an individual, or in acting together with any number of other individuals, cannot delegate to government the power to boss people around against their will in regard to peaceful and consensual actions, unless you own them. “Society” has a right to criminalize peaceful, voluntary behavior only if each individual is the property of society as a whole.

Roderick Long of the Molinari Institute (the parent body of Center for a Stateless Society) describes it as a simple matter of equality. If other people are your equals in dignity, authority, and self-determination, you don’t have the right to tell them what to do. You can’t boss another person around about their food or drug habits, or their sexual practices, unless they’re your subordinate in some sense. You’ve probably seen a kid tell some bossy stranger, or remember telling someone yourself years ago, “You’re not my daddy!” Exactly.

We anarchists don’t believe other people are our property. We don’t believe we have the authority to tell other people what to eat, drink, smoke, or who to have sex with. We’re not their boss. We don’t own them. And we have no right to act through the government to do things we have no legitimate authority to do as individuals. In other words, we anarchists actually believe the things the authors of your civics texts claimed to believe.

The big difference is, we’re consistent about it. We judge all groupings of individuals, even groupings that claim to represent a majority of people in a community and call themselves a “government,” by the same moral principles that govern individuals. The legiminate powers an individual possesses — the right to life, liberty and property, and the consequent power to defend those rights without harm to innocents — can be exercised cooperatively by any number of individuals in concert.

But even if they comprise a majority of people in a community, they have no rightful authority to bind those who did not freely join their cooperative venture. No group, including a group made up of a majority of individuals in a community, has any powers or rights beyond those already possessed by its individual members. Individuals cannot delegate any powers to a government that they do not possess as individuals.

Like any other association, a government exists for the ends of its members, and has no authority over anyone outside it.  The state has no aura of majesty, and exercises no divine power.  Like any other human association, it has only those legitimate powers which individual human beings can rightfully grant in the first place.

If you, as an individual, go to your neighbor’s house and order him to stop smoking dope or parking his car on the lawn, and shove him around or take him prisoner for refusing to comply, you’re nothing but a thug. Your neighbor has the right to tell you to mind your own business and leave him alone, and to resist your aggression if necessary. If you and a large number of other people in the community do the same thing to your neighbor, under cover of a so-called “government,” you’re still just thugs — plain and simple. And your neighbor has just as much right to tell you all to mind your own business, or to resist if necessary.

As an individual, or as a member of a group of individuals — no matter how large — you don’t own other people.

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Social Insecurity

August 19th, 2010 Comments off

From The Mises Institute

By Paul Cwik

Oh joy, oh joy! It has finally arrived! You wouldn’t believe how excited I was to receive a letter from the Social Security Administration. In the letter, they dutifully showed me how much taxable income I have ever made. (Is it me, or is there something really creepy about that?) They showed me how much I have paid in taxes and how much my employer also “paid.” Then they showed me how much my payment would be if I retire at full retirement (67 years old — not 62 or 65 like you may have heard) and if I delay “collecting” until I turn 70.

It is no secret that I turn 40 this year. That means I have another 30 years of work in front of me. I have (for fun) just taken an online life-expectancy survey, and it says that I will live until the age of 86. So let’s assume that these numbers are correct. I will work for another 30 years and then have 16 years to spend it all.

According to the Social Security Administration, I will receive $2,522 a month during those 16 years. The value of that money when I turn 70 is a present-annuity-value calculation. For the purpose of this example, let’s pick an easy interest rate of 5% per year. So the value of the Social Security payments (compounded monthly) for 16 years at annual rate of 5% is $335,444.57. In other words, for me to privately do the same as Social Security, I will need to have $335,444.57 in cash when I turn 70 and deposit it in a security that has a 5% annual return.

To take this example a step further, how much money would I have to set aside each year at an annual compounded rate of 5% to hit this target? Using some “quick math,” we see that I would have to set $5,048.91 aside each year. Well, this does not seem too unreasonable. One might think that this is equivalent to putting away the maximum of $5,000/year in an IRA, and one would not be wrong for thinking that way.

Unfortunately, there is a larger point that has been missed. I have already been taxed for all of the previous years that I have worked. The Social Security Administration informs me that I have currently sunk a little more than $80,000 into this governmental pyramid scheme. Setting aside any interest I could have received over the past 21+ years, let’s assume that they give me a lump sum payment today of $80,000.

Suppose that I take that $80,000 and put it into a security that gives me an annual return of 5% and I do not add another single cent. How much would I have when I turn 70? $345,752.00! I have already exceeded the target needed for the Social Security Administration to fulfill its “promise” to me.

Alas, I do not think that it will do me any good to write a letter to the Social Security Administration explaining that I have reached my target and that they no longer need to tax me. In fact, the letter states, quite explicitly, that I must maintain my current earning rate to collect the stated numbers. So at this point any additional taxes that come from me are just wealth extractions with no benefit to me.

You may think that this is a bad deal for me, and it is, but it is going to be much worse for those who are younger than I. At least I am still making a positive rate of return, somewhere between 2% and 2.5%.

A person born in 1988 making $30,000/year can expect to receive $1,539/month in the year 2058. The Social Security Administration says that he is expected to live until the ripe old age of 87. So that’s another 17 years after retiring at the age of 70. The annuity present value of $1,539/month for 17 years at an annual rate of 5% is $212,938.88. In order to hit that target, he would have to set aside $1,132.50/year in a 5% security. This amount is only 3.775% of his $30,000 annual income.

Social Security and Medicare taxes are 15.3% of his income. If he invested that 15.3% of his income instead, he would be investing $4,590. Supposing that this annual contribution was invested each year for the next 48 years and the principal was collecting 5% interest, instead of the Social Security value of $212,938.88, he would have $863,036.55! That’s a little more than four times the return that Social Security is “promising.”

Or, to drive the nail home, he is paying $4,590 a year and is getting a future value of only $212,938.88. If he simply took that money and buried it in the dirt, he would have, after 48 years, $220,320! The bottom line is that, for today’s 21-year-old, Social Security is a negative return.

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The War in Iraq is Finally Over….. Unless You Are One of the 50,000 U.S. Troops Staying in Iraq! WTF???

August 18th, 2010 Comments off

I’m not even counting the number of private troops that are in Iraq. Where are these people that really believe the war in Iraq is over?  The government and media wouldn’t sell it as such if people didn’t buy into the ridiculous propaganda.

From AntiWar.com

The US government has decided to hype its “official” end to the Iraq War today, and a number of media outlets are dutifully responding, praising the ostensible end to the Iraq War and showing footage of the “last brigade” leaving from Iraq.

The “last brigade,” of course, except for all of the brigades which make up roughly 50,000 US combat troops, that didn’t leave. Those troops’ jobs won’t change, combat will continue, but they were redefined as “transition troops” for the sake of being able to claim that the president withdrew “all combat forces.”

Praising the “end of the war,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley praised the “declining violence” in Iraq, while neglecting to mention that violence has actually been increasing for several months, and that July was the deadliest month in the nation in over two years.

The administration that brought us the “government-in-a-box” fiasco in Marjah is now bringing us the “victory-in-a-box” TV spot, with all the pomp and self-congratulatory shamelessness of the LeBron James Free Agent Signing Special. Its a wonder the administration didn’t book a musical guest, perhaps putting some former American Idol winner at the Kuwaiti border waiting for the troops to arrive.

And at the end of a live journey with embedded reporters, the war “ends”and the “last troops” come home. Except that all the fighting is still going on and the bulk of the troops are still there, and not leaving for months or even years.

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Video: Thomas Sowell on Intellectuals and Society (2009)

August 18th, 2010 1 comment

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The War on Drugs Has Been a Whopper of a Failure

August 18th, 2010 Comments off

From Liberty For All

America’s futile effort to arrest its way out of our drug problems has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion since 1970, and it drains $69 billion a year — every year — from our treasury. It funds terrorists and clogs the court system, yet our kids report that it can be easier for them to buy illegal drugs than beer or cigarettes.

As a child growing up in Wichita, I learned to spot a failure when I saw one. And this one’s a whopper.

Our government pours billions of dollars into poisoning crops in other counties, turning dirt-poor farmers into mortal enemies, and risking our soldiers against highly armed, ruthless drug gangs. And what did the CIA recently admit? After our latest $4 billion eradication effort in Afghanistan, the heroin-producing poppy trade is the largest ever recorded.

Another $4 billion wasted to eradicate coca plants in Colombia has resulted in an increase in coca, and that trade has now been joined by Colombian entrepreneurs who produce opium poppies.

What exactly are we getting for our trillion tax dollars? A good feeling?

But you know who really feels good about our war on drugs? The drug cartels. And the terrorists.

But just as happened to Al Capone and his smuggling buddies when Prohibition ended, the drug lords and terrorists would be out of business without this “war.”

How has our war on drugs affected traditional police work? We solve a much lower percentage of our nation’s homicide cases today than we did in the 1950s, despite more police per capita, better training and technical equipment. How many serious violent crimes go unresolved because police are busy chasing marijuana users?

The war on drugs doesn’t make us any safer. The war on drugs doesn’t prevent drug abuse. The war on drugs costs a fortune. And the war on drugs and its huge profits encourage corruption at all levels of law enforcement.

The good news is that there are workable alternatives. When the Swiss did a 10-year experiment, treating heroin addicts by giving them heroin up to three times a day, everything changed. There was a 60 percent drop in property and violent crime, overdose deaths disappeared, AIDS and hepatitis declined to the lowest rates in Europe, addiction rates went down as addicts stabilized their lives enough to kick their habit, and the rate of projected cases of new heroin users fell by a staggering 82 percent.

By treating heroin addiction as a medical problem, instead of a sign of bad moral character, officials were able to tame Switzerland’s drug problem and gut the drug dealers, as we had always dreamed — just like that.

I represent Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international group of law officers who are sworn opponents of drug abuse. We know a system of legalized regulation of drugs is more efficient and ethical than one of prohibition.

Originally published at the LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) blog January 25, 2007.

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